My gripe with the state of modern writing is that the stories they tell can take place anywhere. One of my writing mentors once told me “The specific describes the general” and I’ve tried to pass on that maxim to anyone who has ever sought my council or happened to be in my proximity for that matter. If James Joyce were a young writer today, there could be no “Dubliners”. Walk through any modern city and you’ll pass a Starbucks, Verizon, Whole Foods, and then some token chain that exists in your locality, owned by an international conglomerate. Like the Roman Forts in Gaul, In N Out Burger is a colonizing force that brings the values and immorals of California behind it. Every city gets to keep its outer façade of kitschy individuality, but underneath they’re all the same, which makes writing about these places feel flat.
Southern Literature, and the South more generally. has been able to stave off the collectivizing force of Modernity because it has always represented what the system is not. It is Aristocratic, gentile, yet also dark and unsettling and therefore, un-marketable. One reads Faulkner and notes his characters would not look good on movie posters or selling insurance. My hopes and dreams for Paul and his writing were that when the last Southern Gothic Author dies, it would be he who took up the mantle. His response was that the genre should die so that something new could replace it. I thought about this conversation for a long time and tried to reconcile my desire to retvrn with his vision of renaissance. I believe that this collection of tales is that replacement.
Paul writes Virgnia itself as a character in his works, literally and figuratively. It is a conquered land, civilized by Europeans and as Paul himself has said on many occasions, Virginia is a microcosm for the rest of the nation. The Old Dominion is a place, whether we are talking about the Tidewater, the Blue Ridge Mountains, The James River or Appalachia. The stories you read in this work are Virginian. The heroes and villains have no context outside their home and while they may echo older tales from far-away lands, those stories, too, only make sense in their time and place.
Virgil wrote the Aeneid as a founding myth to unite the Romans. Tolkien attempted the same with his Lord of the Rings. I see Paul trying to do the same thing here. Whether or not he succeeds in the endeavor is not for me to say. Not for any living person to say. But one day, in the far flung future, if there is a young man sitting on the bank of the James with a fishing pole in one hand and “A Country Squire’s Notebook” in the other, there is no other barometer for success required.
-T.R. Hudson, friend
Beautifully written, brother. There is something ancient and deep in the American South that keeps us rooted to this soil, whether it nourishes us or not.